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What Are Universities For?


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Speaker(s): Professor Stefan Collini
Chair: Professor Janet Hartley

Recorded on 28 February 2012 in Hong Kong Theatre, Clement House.

Across the world, universities are now more numerous than they have ever been, yet at the same time there is unprecedented confusion about their purpose and scepticism about their value. In this talk about his new book What Are Universities For? Stefan Collini will provide a spirited and compelling argument for rethinking the way we see our universities and the purposes they serve.

Stefan Collini challenges the common claim that the priority for universities is to contribute to economic growth. Instead, he argues that we must reflect on the different types of institution and the distinctive roles they play. In particular we must recognise that attempting to extend human understanding, which is at the heart of disciplined intellectual enquiry, can never be wholly harnessed to immediate social purposes - particularly in the case of the humanities, which both attract and puzzle many people and are therefore the most difficult subjects to justify.

Collini is not afraid to take issue with government policies, but his critique is positive as well as fundamental, drawing on deeper insights to propose better starting-points. At a time when the future of higher education lies in the balance, What Are Universities For? offers us a deeper, more persuasive understanding of why universities matter - to everyone.

Stefan Collini has become one of the most important critical voices in debates about universities and their future. A frequent contributor to The Guardian, The London Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement and other publications, he is the author of, among other works, Absent Minds: Intellectuals in Britain (2006). He is Professor of Intellectual History and English Literature at Cambridge University.

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